A Little Kindness

This afternoon, while I was in the supermarket, I saw the lady who used to do my father’s in-home care until he moved into residential care in May.

We started charting, and it became evident that she didn’t know the details of his passing in June. Somewhat surprised by that, I told her of his decline over the last few days of his life, and of my honour and  privilege in holding him in my arms as he died.

As the conversation wound down, I thanked her again for taking care of Dad, and for taking the time to stop and chat with me about him. We both blinked back tears, and then we parted ways.

I had held my emotions together while we were talking, but had a bit of a cry to myself in the otherwise empty pet supplies aisle a couple of rows over.  I told myself I should not feel silly,  nor should I try to hide my feelings. It had been a while since I’d had a cry, and it was probably healthy to let it go.

Still, standing among the bags of cat and dog food and kitty litter in the supermarket probably wasn’t the best place for it.

I thought I had got away with out anyone else noticing, but a lovely young man who worked in the store approached me and asked if I were okay. I told him I would be, I just needed to pull myself together. I managed a weak smile, hoping it would be enough to reassure him.

He smiled back and handed me a little purse pack of Kleenex. I realise that may not sound like much, but it was an act of kindness that brightened an otherwise  miserable moment, and one for which I am very thankful.

I’m also thankful for the reminder that it doesn’t always take much to make a difference in someone’s day.

As the popular saying goes, “in a world where you can be anything you want to be… be kind.”

It occurred to me as I was writing this post that this is the second time  in recent months that I’ve been surprised by the kindness of a young person when they’ve seen my tears. That thought made me smile again.

A Little Kindness
#kindness #ChooseKindness #KindnessMatters

Chasing Waterfalls.

In wilful defiance of TLC’s advice, we spent today chasing waterfalls. Thankfully, though, we were visiting real waterfalls rather than metaphorical ones. 

It was great to get out in the sunshine and fresh air, and to enjoy a change of scenery after months of social restrictions and another term of teaching from home. 

I visited both Nigretta Falls and Wannon Falls near Hamilton, Victoria, with my bestie in July, but my husband hadn’t been there before, so it was nice to be able to visit with him. 

Western Victoria has had a lot of rain the past couple of weeks, so the falls were both far more spectacular than they were in July. The volume of water at Nigretta Falls actually made it look completely different than it did just a few months ago. Wannon Falls had more water, but still looked much the same. 

While watching the water cascading over Wannon Falls and flowing away, I spotted one resilient little tree growing in the river. It is barely visible in the bottom corner of the image above, but it’s there.

I thought about how the river just washes around it and keeps going, but rather than being washed away, that little tree stands its ground. The rocks around it may give it some protection and reduce the drag of the water, but even so, it must have very good roots. 

It occurred to me that I am a bit like that tree. 

This year has been a powerful and relentless river, and the last four months in particular have swollen that river with a lot of extra rain.  I’ve learned to stand my ground and, to purposefully allow many of the pressures of life to just pass me by. I’ve had to. My priority has been to just hang on and try to not get completely overwhelmed and washed away.

Chances are, without the rocks around me, I might have been broken or got washed away. I am so thankful for those people who have supported and protected me. I’m thankful for the powerful roots and protective rocks of faith, family and friends who have held me and sheltered me, each one of them helping to deflect the water in their own way.  

Hopefully, the floodwaters will recede soon and both that little tree and I can start to grow and flourish rather than merely surviving.

Chasing Waterfalls.
#LifeLessons #thoughts #grief #resilience

Gluing a Jigsaw Puzzle for Framing

A simple, step by step guide to preparing a completed puzzle for framing.

The first thing I discovered when I started researching how to prepare my memorial puzzle for framing was the amount of conflicting, and sometimes terrible, advice the internet had to offer. 

Why did it all have to be so hard to find? Why couldn’t there just be one post with clear, straightforward instructions? Who even knows? I resolved then and there to write that post once I worked out what I was doing.

So, I drilled down, made notes on the approaches that seemed reasonable, and sought out some experts to guide me on the process. 

On their advice, and a fair degree of holding my breath and hoping things worked as I had been told they would, this is the process I followed. 

Materials: 

  • A good solid board to mount the puzzle on. I used 2mm strawboard which I bought for about $5 at my favourite office and art supply shop. It is strong and flexible, but won’t sag or warp. It is also slightly textured, which makes it less likely that things will slide around on it. 
  • A rolling pin.
  • Mod Podge sealant glue. I didn’t know how much I would need, and I knew my puzzle was big, so I bought the 16oz bottle. It turned out that I only used about 2 oz of that. It’s handy stuff, so that’s okay. 
  • A small cup to pour your glue from. This allows you to have more control over how much and where you are pouring.  I used an old measure from laundry detergent. 
  • A plastic spatula with a straight edge for spreading the glue. Some people use a credit or ATM card, but the handle on the spatula moves your hand back from the action and allows you to see right away what you’re doing. 
  • Strong spray adhesive. 

Practice Makes Perfect.

Before you go anywhere near the puzzle you want to frame with your glue, practice an old puzzle so that you develop your skills and your confidence. 

A friend who runs a puzzle exchange gave me an old one that nobody was interested in. Goodwill and charity shops often have loads of them for a dollar or two each. 
 I didn’t even make the whole puzzle. I simply completed a couple of sections to practice on.

My first attempt was not bad, but I quickly discovered how easy it was to use too much glue. It spread easily, but pooled around the edges.  This gave me a better idea of how much to pour on in the first instance, and how to spread it evenly. So, the edges were messy with glue, but the effect on the puzzle was good. 

My second attempt was much more even. It came up really well. 

I braced myself, got my gear ready, and turned to my beautiful puzzle. It was time. 

Gluing The Puzzle

  1. Use your rolling pin to ensure the puzzle is completely flat and the pieces are evenly joined.
  2. Pour some glue from the big bottle into the small cup. You can always add more if you need it. 
  3. Don’t panic that the glue is white. It WILL dry clear and glossy.
  4. Pour the glue in a thin, even S shape line over your puzzle. Spread it thinly and evenly over the surface with the spatula.

    Make sure all the joins between the pieces are filled with glue. Make sure you don’t have globs or spots of glue anywhere. The aim is to achieve an even coating over the surface. 

    Mine was a very large puzzle, so I did it in three sections. When one section was done, I poured more glue and kept going. 
  5. Allow it to dry for several hours. It will feel dry to touch after about 20 minutes, but it’s important to allow the glue in the joins between the pieces to cure and dry completely before you go any further. 
  6. Turn your puzzle over very gently. It may have been glued, but it’s important to be as careful as you can with it at every step of all times, as it is still fragile.
  7. Repeat the gluing process on the back of your puzzle. This will both strengthen the bond between the pieces and seal the surface. 
  8. Wait at least 12 hours to ensure that everything is completely dry. 
  9. Cover the back of your puzzle evenly with spray adhesive, then cover the surface of your mounting board.

    Wait a few minutes for the surface to become tacky to touch. then flip your puzzle very carefully onto the board. 

    Do this outside or in a well-ventilated area, and wear a mask. Remember, you don’t want spray adhesive all over your furniture OR in your lungs! 
  10. Use a rolling pin to ensure the entire surface of your puzzle is pressed onto the board. 
  11. Leave it alone to set and dry. Your puzzle will be ready for framing tomorrow. 

The Result: 

I’m really pleased with how my puzzle turned out. The finish is beautiful, and the gloss of the glue really highlights the gold highlights and subtle colours in the puzzle.

Because my puzzle is a very special one, and because it is too big for any of the commercially available frames I have seen,  I’m going to take it to a professional picture framer. 

All ready to go to the framer!

Pieces Falling Into Place

A complicated puzzle became both a memorial and an allegory for my grief journey and my life.

I’ve been working on a beautiful jigsaw puzzle over the past month. I chose it in honour of Helen, because she and I often did puzzles together. In fact, this was the first jigsaw puzzle I’ve done without Helen in probably twenty years. I also chose it for my dad, who would have loved both the map and the fact it was created by a Dutchman. 

The image is an antique map of the known world, complete with solar systems and representations of the four elements; highlighted with gold embellishments. It was created by F. De Wit in Amsterdam in 1663, and the puzzle was produced by Hinkler Mindbogglers. Boy oh boy, did they get that branding right! 

It really was a mind boggling challenge. Intricate lines, many pieces that still looked almost the same, and corner and edge pieces that were almost identical to one another made putting this puzzle together quite the labour of love. 

Mind boggling, to say the least!

Piece by piece, though, it started to happen. It is no understatement to say that I felt a profound sense of achievement when I finished a section and could anticipate how beautiful the whole thing was going to look. 

Piece by piece, it started to come together…

Doing the puzzle in honour of Helen and my father gave me purpose, but the concentration it required and the distraction from other things in life gave me a sense of mindfulness and peace that really helped me in my day to day life. 

Almost there! But those last couple of hundred pieces were the hardest!

Dealing with my grief and managing tasks related to Dad’s estate were somewhat complicated by the challenges of teaching online again during Victoria’s second major Covid-19 lockdown, but working from home also gave me the space I needed to do those things and start to heal. 

In many ways, that puzzle became an allegory for my own life. I was putting those pieces together too, seeing how things fit and getting an idea of how things would look. I too have intricate lines and a complex design that needs to be observed carefully in order to achieve the desired outcome. My life is full of pieces that fit together neatly, and it’s up to me to make sure I get that right. 

So, while the puzzle on the table is complete, the puzzle that is me is still a work in progress. 

A beautiful picture indeed!

Today marks thirteen weeks since my dad graduated to heaven. Thursday marks the same interval for Helen. 

Three months seemed like an appropriate goal for completing the puzzle, and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction at having done so.

This week, I will make arrangements to have it framed. 

When it is hanging on my wall, it will be a daily reminder that doing life well is a process, not an event. It will remind me that every piece matters. And it will remind me of my love for Dad and for Helen, of their love for me.  

I am so blessed to have known and loved them both, and to have been loved by them. The pieces they contributed to the puzzle of my life have helped to make it a thing of beauty. For that, I am very, very thankful. 

I know that as the pieces of life continue falling into place and fitting back together, my grief will remain present, but it will change. It will transform to become a part of the bigger picture, while keeping its own shape and character. In time, it will be differently painful, but the picture of my life would be incomplete with out it. In its place, fitting in with the pieces that represent joy, achievement, love, and hope, it adds its own detail, texture and embellishment to the canvas. 

A Sweet Act of Kindness.

Today I received a mystery package in the post.

Well, this was intriguing!

It turned out to be a box full of kindness from a former student who read Sunday’s post about my first Father’s Day without my dad. 

Beautiful cookies by @adornedbybeth on Instagram

The cookies were accompanied by a lovely note.

In case you’re wondering… yes, I cried.

In that moment, I felt so cared for. I felt valued and understood. 

What a blessing to receive such kindness. 
What an honour to know that a former student likes and respects me enough to do something so sweet and generous. 

Highly recommended.

Finally, those cookies! They’re sensational – and almost too pretty to eat.

Only almost, though. 

Good Grief! Getting Through My First Father’s Day Without My Dad.

The challenge: dealing with my feelings on a day I’ve always enjoyed celebrating before.

Over the past few weeks, I found myself growing heartily tired of advertisements and posts about Fathers’ Day. 

I sincerely wish all the dads out there and their kids a very happy Father’s Day, and I truly hope they can spend some quality time together. I hope kids of all ages cherish their dads and make the most of every opportunity to spend time with them while they still have them. 

For me, though… it just hurts. This is my first Father’s Day without my dad after 53 years of having him in my life. It has only been 11 weeks since he died and I miss him enormously every day. 

Dad enjoying a great coffee at Camperdown Bakery in March 2020.

I have so much to be thankful for. Dad was wise, and funny, and encouraging, and consistent, and caring, and always there when I needed him. I loved being able to care for him and provide for him, to spend time with him every day, and to take him to the places he needed or wanted to go. We were father and daughter, but also great companions and partners in laughter, day trips, good coffee and sweet treats. 

All of that is why I miss him so much. And while everyone else is celebrating their dads as they absolutely should, it feels empty for me. 

So, I spent part of my day commemorating my father. 

I went to visit the grave where both my parents are now buried. I placed flowers there, took some photos, and had a big howly cry. 

There was a young guy nearby, placing something on a grave — maybe his own dad’s or grandfather’s resting place, I don’t know. He approached me gently and asked, “Are you okay, miss?” We we’re both wearing masks, but his eyes were kind and I could see he was genuinely concerned for me. I thanked him and explained it was my first Father’s Day without my dad as he died in June, and he nodded. “He was lucky to have a daughter who would cry for him,” he said. Then he patted my arm and walked away. What a kind, compassionate soul! 

As I calmed my breathing and emotions, I took some photos for the family. 

My next stop was the Camperdown Botanic Gardens. I love walking there. It’s so pretty and there is always something lovely to see. It was the perfect place for reflecting and mindfulness as I walked.  Surprisingly, I was the only person there: everyone else was missing out, because it was an absolutely glorious day. There were blossom trees covered in buds and blooms, new leaves on limbs that have been bare all winter, a glorious grove of bluebells, pretty tulips and cheerful daffodils and jonquils. They were all sights that were good for the soul. 

My third destination for the day was the nursery: I wanted to buy a tree to plant in memory of my dad. There were some lovely options – silver birches, ornamental pears, weeping cherry blossom, and a range of decorative blossom trees. In the end, I couldn’t decide between the crabapple and the Persian witch hazel, so I bought both. They both have leaves that change with autumn colour, and pretty blossoms to give cheer in late winter and early spring. 

There was one funny moment when the lady who runs the nursery suggested a maple tree. I had to confess to her that I adore maples — they are my favourite tree— but I couldn’t get a maple this time because nobody would believe I bought it to remember Dad. A maple would definitely be just  for me. 

It has been an emotional roller coaster of a day, but I have tried to fill it with positive things and happy memories instead of dwelling on the past or wallowing in misery. I experienced a beautiful moment of kindness from a stranger, enjoyed fresh air and sunshine on an absolutely cracking spring day, and I have two lovely new trees that will brighten the garden and my life. 

The crabapple has been planted, and the Persian witch hazel is just waiting until tomorrow evening for its turn. 

Counting my blessings instead of my tears is definitely what Dad would have wanted me to do.

So, once again, job done.  

My Souvenirs.

Yesterday, I wrote about completing thef tasks I needed to do after my father’s passing. That included rehoming a number of his things, including two bookshelves that have been in our family longer than me, the art prints that Mum and Dad loved to have on their walls, and personal things like his bed and his walker. 

I don’t know how many times I told my siblings that I wasn’t sentimental about giving away things we didn’t need, or selling the things worth money, via buy/swap/sell groups on Facebook. There are people out there who needed them more than we did. That was mostly true. 

I have kept Dad’s hat and his walking stick. I don’t need them, but they are so iconic of him in the last few years that they are deeply meaningful to me. Those are things that he held and wore most days. They identified him at any distance, and had become part of his identity to everyone who saw him when he was out and about. 

My beloved Dad in March, 2020.

These things are my souvenirs, tangible holders of memory, and valued physical symbols of my no-longer-present, much loved father dad. 

Job Done.

Today my best friend and I went to visit my parents’ grave to see the new plaque that has been added for my dad.  It signifies another landmark, of you’ll pardon the pun: all of my responsibilities for Dad’s funeral and memorial have been met. All the jobs are done. 

Photo: Joanne Van Leerdam

The past few weeks have seen the dispersal of the last few things that needed to find new homes. Dad’s bed and walker went to an elderly chap who will benefit from them as much as Dad did. The last things to go were some bookshelves, some framed art prints, an organ stool, a couple of shower chairs, and an odds-and-sods collection of Tupperware containers that are too good to throw out but surplus to our needs. 

The plaque was the last thing that needed to be finished. It looks lovely, and matches Mum’s plaque perfectly. It’s completion leaves me with a profound sense of achievement and satisfaction, but also one of being at a loose end. Those tasks have kept me busy and feeling like I could do something useful to help process my grief. When I took the photo of the finished headstone this morning, and placed one of my own beloved wombats beside it, I knew it was all done. 

And now I don’t know what to do with myself. Oh,  I have work and books and all the demands of life to keep me busy, just as I have always done. But that sense of purposeful mourning has run its course, and I am not sure what comes next. 

I guess I am about to find out. 

This afternoon I was talking about these feelings with my best friend as we drove home. We were blessed with the most beautiful, bright rainbow — not in the distance, but touching the side of the road as we drove. At one point, we could see the whole rainbow just outside the front and side windows of the car, but I couldn’t successfully take a photo of it. 

Image Joanne Van Leerdam

“After today, and everything I was just saying… it’s like God telling me everything is going to be okay. It sucks that Dad is gone, but I’ll be alright.” 

“it absolutely is,” she said. “You’ll be alright. We all will.”

And when we got home, we were greeted with another rainbow.  

Image Joanne Van Leerdam

Grieving From A Distance.

While I’ve been on my own grief journey recently, many others are experiencing grief of their own.  And in this time of social and travel restrictions in Australia and elsewhere, people’s sorrow and grief is being complicated by distance and isolation. 

I have seen this happen multiple times within my own circle of family and friends in just the past few weeks. 

My brother in Canada lost his own brother a couple of weeks ago. It was unexpected, and therefore an enormous shock. 

Talking with my brother and trying to support him via instant messaging has been a blessing for both of us – to share the pain eases it somehow, if only slightly. But what I really wanted to do was get on a plane and go there to hug him and support him in person. Even if I couldn’t go immediately, the knowledge that I’d be there at some point soon would encourage him enormously. 

Sadly, it’s just not possible. My state is in lockdown. We are under strict conditions for leaving home. International travel for personal reasons is not possible. Heck, going anywhere at all beyond my local supermarket or pharmacy in the time of COVID-19 is ridiculously problematic, and probably not really safe given my lousy immunity. As it is, I have to stay here and he has to be there. 

He knows I’m with him in spirit, but it just doesn’t seem enough. I know how hard it was to lose a loved family member and a close friend within five days of each other, and his brother was both those things to him. I know how hard it was to deal with the trauma, and I had my family around me. I’ve been painfully aware of the fact that he lives on his own, some distance from the rest of the family, and hasn’t had the close support that I’ve had. 

After losing our father in June, my sister has lost two good friends and another friend she has known for more than forty years in the space of a month. I’ve been able to talk with her and listen to her express her shock and sadness, but I haven’t been able to hug her or help her in any physical way because we’re hundreds of kilometers apart.

A friend lost his uncle this week, and be there to grieve with his family because his uncle lived interstate and our border is closed. It doesn’t matter to the authorities how close he was to his uncle, nor do they care that his uncle was a father figure for him and helped raise him. The rules apply to everyone, regardless of personal circumstance. It’s understandable, but it makes the pain and misery so much worse. 

It’s not just immediate grief that is complicated by distance, either, My beloved late friend’s husband and son have both had birthdays in the past couple of weeks, and  I would have so loved to be there to support them as they struggled with not wanting to celebrate, and not being able to see the rest of the family because their lockdown restrictions are so tight. They’re all dealing with curfews, stay home orders, and only being allowed to travel within five kilometres of home for essential purposes. It’s not so restricted here, but nobody is allowed to visit Melbourne for social reasons, so that’s that. 

The result for all of them, and for everyone experiencing grief in the time of corona, is a vicious cycle of mental and emotional distress as sorrow and isolation feed on each other. The effect on one’s wellbeing is profound. 

My heart aches for everyone in that situation. I can’t imagine how much worse it must be for those who have actually lost loved ones to the virus and haven’t been able to be with them, or with their family members as they grieve. 

We are all struggling with the impact of the virus and the social restrictions it has brought to our lives, but let’s remember that there are some who are really, really doing it tough. It certainly puts the inconveniences of wearing a mask outside of home and sanitizing our hands fifty times a day into perspective. 

It may not seem like much, but a phone call or message to someone can make a huge difference in their day and in their mental and emotional health. Being willing to care and to listen is an act of love and support of immense value. 

Tristful.

Image by huskyherz on Pixabay.

Tristful is an archaic word that means to be melancholy or full of sadness. Like forswunk and forwallowed, it is a word which is said to be obsolete now, but it is so beautiful that I want to bring it back. 

It came into the English language, as many words did, courtesy of the Normans and the Plantagenets, in medieval times.  The Latin word tristis gave French the word triste, which gave English trist meaning sad or gloomy, and thus tristful. 

I discovered this word today while looking for words to describe my feelings and state of mind at this point in my grief journey. Over the past few days, I have been feeling as though everything is too hard, and I just want to withdraw into my cocoon and wallow. I’m not angry, nor am I ungrateful, but I am definitely not numb. My emotions are very close to the surface, and at times I am unable to hold back the tears. 

I know all of that is completely natural, and I know I need to accept it and work through it. I know it won’t last forever.

But I also needed the words to understand and express my emotions. 

I have been using the term ‘melancholy’ a lot, and it describes my condition perfectly. However, I know that while one cannot actually wear a word out, it is entirely possible to cheapen it with overuse. Melancholy is a word that I love because it is so expressive, and because it’s beautiful to say and to hear, so I would hate to be guilty of turning it into a cliche. 

Sad isn’t deep enough. Miserable would be appropriate, but it feels more temporary and somehow more minor than what I am experiencing. 

I very quickly rejected morose and in a funk because both suggest sullenness or a bad mood, which is not reflective of my feelings or state of mind. Moody was no better.

When I saw tristful listed in my thesaurus under the entry for melancholy, I had an immediate sense of having discovered a gem that most people had laid aside and forgotten about. As I researched its meaning and etymology, I knew I had discovered the perfect alternative. 

Tristful: to be melancholy or full of sadness. #words #emotions #etymology #English #blogpost